This was the headline International Pinot Noir tasting at Pinot Noir 2017 in Wellington. In this session, rather than focus on New Zealand, it was time for the panellists to look further afield. Each of the four chose two wines that they felt represented greatness in Pinot Noir, and then explained their own views on greatness in wine. It was a meaty, intriguing session. We tasted them blind, knowing solely who had chosen the wines. These are my notes and scores as written blind. I didn’t try to guess where the wines were from, and instead tried to focus on what was in the glass.
This was a really interesting selection.
Chosen by Marcel Giesen
Marcel chose two of my favourite Californian producers. ‘To me, these wines exemplify balance and purity,’ says Marcel. I really liked both wines. ‘You can hear the voice of the land, but you have to listen,’ he observed. ‘Power isn’t size, it is like persistence, like wingrowers who don’t give up.’
Au Bon Climat Larmes de Grappe Pinot Noir 2005 Santa Rita Hills, California
Sweet, supple, lovely refined red cherry fruit. Has a little development and a core of sweet fruit with real finesse. Supple, elegant and very smooth with fine-grained tannins. 94/100
Domaine de La Côte Bloom’s Field Pinot Noir 2014 Santa Rita Hills, California
Fresh and detailed with fine, sappy red cherries and plums. Real elegance here with delicate, fine raspberry notes. Light and ethereal and really elegant. Lovely weight in the mouth. 95/100
Chosen by Mike Bennie
Among other things, Mike talked about how fault finding is often at championship levels at Australian wine shows, yet in the evening the judges would drink classic European wines which displayed the sorts of faults that had been so soundly criticized during the day.
‘Quality is often a set of group-think principles,’ Mike says, ‘ignoring winemaker intent. I believe that there are some canons that need re-assessing.’
Reputation and expectation both blinker assessments of quality. ‘I want my wine unbalanced,’ he added, pointing out that sometimes the edges in a wine provide interest.
He mentioned winemaker intent as an important attribute of the wine. ‘How the wine gets to bottle is more important than subjective assessment.’ Mike’s choices were thought provoking and smart.
Mythopia Illusion Pinot Noir 2013 Arbaz, Valais, Switzerland
Sweet, malty and a bit spicy with some earthy hints. Tastes quite natural with lively, slightly lifted acidity and some notes of tea leaves and herbs. Grippy tannins on the finish. Thought-provoking and natural, and flirting with funkiness. 91/100
Mount Pleasant Mother Vine Pinot Noir 2014 Hunter Valley, Australia
Distinctive with a Ribena edge to the sweet cherry and plum fruit. Grippy unresolved tannins. Very direct fruit with a fresh but sweet jammy finish. A bit strange and very tannic. 90/100
Chosen by Ken Ohashi
The view of Pinot Noir quality I am about to present may strike you as somewhat different from what you are familiar with,’ says Ken. He says that until recently Japan was quite a self-referential culture. Ken tried to explain the Japanese mindset. ‘Great Pinot Noir is transparent with the best qualities of premium water: it is smooth with a completely clear aroma and taste.’ According to Ken, transparency is the cornerstone of great Pinot Noir. ‘It means the wine has a pure aroma and palate, a finish suited to the focus of harmonious aroma and palate, and a silent and understated sensation.’ Ken’s choices demonstrated this.
Timo Meyer Dr Meyer Pinot Noir 2014 Yarra Valley, Australia
Fresh and juicy with bright, sappy red cherry fruit and some herbal overtones. There’s an elegance to this wine with a juicy, herb-tinged quality and some green tea in the background. Beguiling and delicious. 94/100
Meyer Näkel G Spätburgunder 2014 Ahr Valley, Germany
Forward, direct, fresh red cherry and raspberry notes here: lively and supple, with a bit of tannic grip as well as fresh, ethereal red fruits. Youthful and elegant with nice acidity, but also some tannic grip. Potential for development. 95/100
Chosen by Jancis Robinson
Jancis began by noting that had this conference taken place in the last century there’d be far more mention of Burgundy in a seminar like this. But the world of wine is a big one, and good Pinot is being made in many different locations these days. Some trivia: As a student Jancis drank a Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses 1959, and this was the wine that did it for her.
She pointed out that just 0.1% of the tasting notes on her website are on non-Burgundy Pinot Noirs that have scored over 18 (which is a very high JR score). This makes up 140 wines, of which 18 are from Oregon, 37 from Australia, 38 from California and 46 from New Zealand. Jancis’ choices were, as you’d expect, very good.
Mark Haisma Morey St Denis 1er Cru Les Chaffots 2013 Burgundy, France
Fresh and detailed with a bit of lift and some cedar spice under the fresh red fruits. Very pretty, sweet red fruits here with freshness and a savoury twist. 92/100
Tolpuddle Pinot Noir 2015 Coal River Valley, Tasmania
Green and sappy with a sweet red fruit core and a lush liqueur like quality. Sweet and green at the same time. Sappy and bright with nice focus and an easy-drinking quality. 93/100